"Living Labs: Connecting young South Africans to their natural heritage, one river at a time."
Living Labs is a positive reaction to the problem of growing global disconnect between young people and nature, as well as the challenge of conserving river ecosystems –arguably South Africa’s most valuable natural resource. It is a reaction based on the premise that meaningful relationships between communities and the local environment are the strongest foundation for committed conservation of the valuable, but vulnerable ecosystems and biodiversity with which we share this planet.
Living Lab's vision is to work with our partners to grow and sustain a strategic network of schools, each connected to a nearby river which they adopt, monitor and draw inspiration and knowledge from about science and biodiversity. On the one hand the programme exposes learners to the wonders and values of healthy ecosystems, facilitating meaningful relationships between young people and their environment – the backbone of a more environmentally conscious and caring society. On the other, it provides an opportunity for them to learn hands-on about environmental science (the method, purpose and career possibilities) through participating in real-world ecological assessments of river health. We also seek to equip and enable educators to form independent Living Labs nodes where feasible, and thereby grow the network even further.
River health assessments, which apply established, government-aligned biomonitoring tools appropriate for school use (e.g. miniSASS), encompass the entire scientific process (from sampling to uploading river health assessment results to a national online database) and will contribute valuable and reliable information that can be used by managers to better-conserve our precious river ecosystems – a unique feature that sets the programme apart from other environmental education initiatives in South Africa. The experience is designed to complement school curricula as well as equip students with the skills and know how to become active citizen scientists within their communities.
Jeremy Shelton and Jordan-Laine Calder